Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Words are arrows

One image I've encountered in Sanskrit texts on language is that of the arrow standing in for the capacity of words. I think the first time (in secondary literature) I saw this was in K.K. Raja's Indian Theories of Meaning, when he refers to Abhinavagupta's characterization of the Prābhākara theory of sentence meaning (anvitābhidhāna). Raja says:
Abhinavagupta refers to this theory as the dīrgha-vyāpāravāda, since according to the anvitābhidhāna theory there is no limit to the extent of the meaning that an expression can convey. Just as the range of an arrow is not limited, but varies with the difference in the power with which it is discharged, so also the range of abhidhā or the expressive power can be extended farther and farther (Raja 1969, 199-200).
The section in Abhinavagupta's Locana says:
यो ऽप्यन्विताभिधानवादी यत्परः शब्दः स शब्दार्थः इति हृदये ग्रहीत्वा शरवदभिधाव्यापारमेव दीर्घदीर्घभिच्छति तस्य यदि दीर्घो व्यापारस्तदेको ऽसाविति कुतः । (Śāstrī 1940, 64, lines 2-3)
Now the school of anvitābhidhāna holds dearly to the doctrine that "the word's meaning is that to which the word [finally] leads," and would have it that the denotative operation continues longer and longer, like the course of an arrow (śara). We ask them: if the operation continues so long, how can it be one, for its objects will be various? (Ingalls et al 1990, 89)
Here Abhinavagupta, in defending the existence of dhvani from the reductionist threat of Prābhākara thinkers, argues that unlike an arrow, which has one object (the target), the denotative operation (abhidhāvyāpara) has multiple. So this is not a fair analogy.

This way of characterizing the Prābhākara view, as an arrow with a "longer and longer operation" (dīrghadhīrgavyāpara) is also found earlier in Jayanta Bhaṭṭa's Nyāyamañjarī:
वाक्यस्य दूराविदूरव्यवस्थितगुणागुणक्रियाद्यनेककारककलकापोपरक्तकार्यात्मकवाक्यार्थप्रतीतौ इषोरिव दीर्घदीर्घो व्यापारः । (Vidvan 1969, 124, lines 4-6)
As an arrow (iṣu) has a short or long process, i.e., it hits a near or remote object or it pierces and passes through a thin or thick object quickly or slowly, so a sentence quickly or slowly conveys its meaning since the knowledge of the complete meaning depends upon a group of factors, viz, the knowledge of the meanings of words denoting qualities, substances, action, etc.  (Bhattacarya 1978, 93-94)
Jayanta is presenting a Prābhākara retort to the putative pramāṇa of śrutārthāpatti, postulation of what is heard. The idea is that there is no need to postulate anything to complete incomplete sentences, but the words in an otherwise incomplete expression continue to function until he entire meaning is understood. Jayanta will argue that, in fact, some unheard words are responsible for conveying meaning, not just those words that are heard (here he appeals to lopa in grammatical contexts which still have semantic efficacy). This use of the arrow image relies not just on the length of its range, but also its speed, which implies the phenomenological experience of understanding words.

V. K. Chari says that dīrghadīrghavyāpāra is found in the Mahābhāṣya (Chari 262, fn 33) but while roots of the idea may be found there, I could not find the analogy of the arrow in connection with it (perhaps I am just missing it, though).

We can also see Vācaspati in his Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā discussing the comprehension of words in terms of an arrow, although his point seems to be different--in fact, the opposite!
प्रयोगप्राचुर्याद अत्यन्ताभ्यासेनातिशीघ्रतया सन्न् अपि प्रत्ययक्रमो न लक्ष्यते शीघ्रतरबाणहेतुकशतपत्रशतव्यतिभेदवद् इति चेत । न । ...  (Thakur 1996, 435, lines 9-10)
Suppose you say: due to the profuse number of such uses, since they are very common and occur so fast, [secondary meaning understood from the primary meaning], although it is a sequential awareness, it is not recognized as such--just like the explosive appearance of hundreds of feathers caused by hundreds of the fastest arrows (bāṇa). (We reply) no...
Here, Vācaspati is discussing the speed with which we understand the secondary meaning from the primary meaning, such as when someone says "The village is on the Ganges" and we immediately understand them to mean it is on the bank of the Ganges. This illustration is meant to be a counterexample to his claim that the primary meaning of a word is (as Gautama says) the individual, the shape, and the universal altogether. The objector claims that, as with the move from primary to secondary meaning, so in the case of the primary meaning of a word (a universal) which is then understood as its context-specific sense (say, a particular individual), these distinct stages that are just too rapid for us to disambiguate.

Of course, comparing arrows to speech is not just a philosophical occurrence--it's a trope in poetry, as in the Mahābhārata (and elsewhere)
वाकसायका वदनान निष्पतन्ति; यैर आहतः शॊचति रार्त्य अहानि
परस्य वा मर्मसु ये पतन्ति; तान पण्डितॊ नावसृजेत परेषु (online edition at sacred-texts.com link)
The man hurt by the arrows (sāyaka) of cruel speech hurled from one's lips, weepeth day and night. Indeed, these strike at the core of the body. Therefore the wise never fling these arrows at others. (Ganguli translation online)
Here, though, the image emphasizes the result of the arrows--their painful effect, in contrast to the earlier analogies focusing on the arrow's changeable range (in the Prābhākara case discussed by Abhinavagupta and Jayanta Bhaṭṭa) or its rapidity (in Vācaspati's use). I am not sure, but I wonder if Vācaspati is talking about a very large bow from which many arrows could be shot at a single time (rather than a flurry from a group of archers).

I'm trying to collect these instances as they occur as examples of philosophical methodology that involves "figurative language" (where it's an open question how precisely to characterize what's going on). What's interesting, too, is that they all use different words for "arrow," so it suggests that the image--and maybe not an original maxim--is what unites the uses (though this is very tentative). Are there others you would add to the list? Further, has someone already written on this theme (arrows as words in philosophy) and I've just missed it? (Somewhat relatedly, there is a recent paper in Dao by Rina Marie Camus with response by Edward Slingerland that takes up the theme of archery as metaphor in Confucius and Aristotle.)

(Cross-posting at the Indian philosophy blog.)

Sanskrit Sources
Abhinavagupta, Locana, in Paṭṭābhirāma Śāstrī, Ed., The Dhvanyāloka, with the Locana of Abhinavagupta and the Bālapriyā of Rāmaśāraka. Kashi Sanskrit Series 135, Benares: Chowkambha Sanskrit Series, 1940.

Jayanta Bhaṭṭạ. Nyāyamañjarī. Vol 1. Ed. K.S. Varadacharya Vidvan. Mysore: Oriental Research Institute, 1969.

Vācaspatimiśra. Nyāyavārttikatātparyaṭīkā of Vācaspatimiśra. Ed. Anantalal Thakur. Nyāyacaturgranthika Volume III. Indian Council of Philosophical Research, New Delhi  Bhāratīyadārśnikanusandhāna Pariṣatprakāśitā, 1996.

Ānandavardhana & Abhinavagupta. The Dhvanyāloka of Ānandavardhana with the Locana of Abhinavagupta. Ed. & trans. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Sr. TransJeffrey Moussaieff Masson, M. V. Patwardhan. Boston: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Jayantabhaṭṭa. Jayanta Bhaṭṭạ's Nyāyamañjarī (The Compendium of Indian Speculative Logic). Trans. Janaki Vallabha Bhattacarya. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1978.

Chari, V.K. Sanskrit Criticism. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1993.

Raja, K.K. Indian Theories of Meaning. Adyar: The Adyar Library and Research Centre, 1969.

Note: I read the passage from Vācaspati with Matt Dasti for the first time, and so my translation is indebted to discussions with him, although it is my own, and he is not to be blamed for my errors!

Monday, January 29, 2018

2017 Year in Review, List-wise

I found this draft, never published, but begun at the beginning of January. Publishing it now before February begins!

2017 marked the end of my second and beginning of my third year (!) at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.
  • It was the first time that I have been able to teach the same class more than once: Philosophy and Political Thought (a two-semester sequence of great works in three major world  traditions: Chinese, Indian, and "Western" thought). This means that I've been able refine some of my pedagogical strategies--integrating instruction in reading, writing, and class discussion around the theme of "conversational moves." I've also refined some translations of Sanskrit texts for use in those classes.
  • This fall, (first term academic year 2017-2018) I taught my first advanced level philosophy course (Doing Things with Words) which focused on speech act theory in J.L. Austin and the Tarkasaṃgraha of Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā, and the extent that the two can be brought into fruitful engagement with each other. 
  • Last spring (second term academic year 2016-2017), I taught a course integrating Indian, Chinese, and Western theories of metaphor (Analogical Reasoning and Metaphor).
  • During the course of that year I've been fortunate to travel to India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia! This has let me participate in a Workshop on rasa theory with C. Rajendran at Manipal University (who I then hosted here at Yale-NUS), give talks at Kyoto University and Underwood International College at Yonsei University, as well as National Chengchi University. I've gotten feedback from people all around the world on my work, and it's been wonderful.
  •  I managed to publish three articles:
    • "(Close) the Door; the King (is Going): The Development of Elliptical Resolution in Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā." Journal of Indian Philosophy. 45:5, pp. 911-938.
    • "Metonymy and Metaphor as Verbal Postulation: The Epistemic Status of Non-Literal Speech in Indian Philosophy'', Journal of World Philosophies, 2:1 (Summer 2017).
    • "How Do We Gather Knowledge through Language?'' with Elisa Freschi, Journal of World Philosophies, 2:1 (Summer 2017).
  • And I signed two book contracts:
    • Understanding Indian Philosophy of Language with Bloomsbury Academic Publishing. An introduction to Indian philosophy of language by way of Mukulabhaṭṭa's Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā, a work on poetics, grammar, & philosophy. Manuscript due May 2018. I'll be workshopping a draft of the text in February 2018 at Harvard University, in the South Asian Studies Department.
    • Major Texts and Arguments on Reasoning in Indian Philosophy  with Bloomsbury Academic Publishing. An edited volume focused on the debate over the knowledge source known as "postulation" (arthāpatti) in the brahminical traditions in India. The book will include primary texts with a substantial introduction along with essays intervening in the debate from philosophical and historical perspectives. Manuscript due May 2019. An August 2018 workshop funded by a large research grant from Yale-NUS College will enable collaborators to meet and discuss translations and essays.
As 2018 begins, I am on study leave until the next academic year, with aims to
  • Submit UIPL to Bloomsbury by May 2018
  • Get a few more articles under review
  • Organize the arthāpatti workshop and begin putting that text together
  • Revise my Classical Indian Philosophy of Language course (using UIPL for the main text)
  • Prepare a new course for spring 2019: Debate and Reasoning in Indian Philosophy of Language.

Monday, February 20, 2017


Last week I was at the Rasa Theory Workshop at Manipal University, which I hope to blog about at some point later. Now I'm in Mysore doing some reading for a few days. I came across this storefront while at the Jaganmohan Palace, and thought it was worth sharing:

The shopkeepers are probably not employing śleṣa (intentional double-meaning or ambiguity) on the Sanskrit term ākāṅkṣā, but then again, who knows? In Sanskrit philosophy of language, the term means "expectation" or maybe, "anticipation." I like the latter just so I can illustrate the idea with this clip from the (classic) Rocky Horror Picture Show:

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The relevance of classical/medieval Indian philosophy

This week I was scheduled to lecture on Annaṃbhaṭṭa's Tarkasaṃgraha. The primer was written in 17th century India to introduce students to Nyāya philosophy. Heavy on my mind over the weekend while I was revising the lecture (I gave a version last semester as well) was the rising of a new administration in the US. (I'd prefer not to include its name here so as to avoid unwelcome search term visitors.)

There's discussion in some quarters of the Internet about revising syllabi in order to address contemporary issues. For philosophers inclined to do so, I see no reason to object--especially if one's work is contemporary and courses are easily adjusted to incorporate discussion of these things. However, what should those of us who are teaching classes in, say, pre-modern or medieval philosophy do? Do we need to jettison material which doesn't explicitly speak to the modern political context?

I don't think so. My lecture to the students this week began by emphasizing the pervasiveness and importance of debate. Some debates are truth-seeking, some are not. We need to know the difference so we can spot interlocutors who after power or confusion rather than truth. And so we should think about methods of reasoning, such as inference, along with Nyāya, who is concerned with debate (both with an actual interlocutor, but also the kind of internal debate that goes on when truth-seeking). Further, Nyāya is after how to live well, how to do what is right, and not just metaphysical and epistemological hair-splitting. Metaphysics and epistemology are important for liberation, the highest good for Nyāya.

Quote is a translation revised from
Jonardon Ganeri, The Lost Age of Reason: Philosophy in Early Modern India 1450-1700,
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011, p122.
I set up the historical context for the students--when Annaṃbhaṭṭa is writing his introductory text, he's writing in a time of increasing cultural complexity, where globally, authoritarianism is on the rise (in places like France) and there's tension among followers of Islam and other religions, despite the fact that Islam is nowhere near a monolith. It was a time of global upheaval, we might say, with dynasties in China being overturned and religious conflict in Europe. I let the students draw the parallels, but I think it was fairly clear--as the Preacher says, there is nothing new under the sun.

We then talked about inference, its relationship to perception, its varieties, its obstacles. Throughout, I challenged the students to think about their own reasoning and other examples. How do they know that two things are causally related? What should they say to a skeptic? How should they respond to a counter-argument demonstrating the opposite of what they've just (at least apparently) inferred?

In closing, I reiterated the fact that, for Nyāya, doubt spurs us to investigation. It isn't the place where we stop--and the stakes involved in reasoning well are in fact high. Whether we think the highest good is mokṣa or something else, Nyāya echoes others from all over the world (Śāntideva, Ibn Tufayl, Zhu Xi--to name those my students have read this semester) in asserting the interrelationship between thinking well and living well.

Some days it feels as if there is not much that a single person do in the face of the complexity of the world. However, my hope is that doing just this small part, giving a lecture on reasoning in Nyāya philosophy, may have an impact on the lives of my students and those people with whom they relate.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Quick note: Jackalopes, al-mi'raj, and śaśaviṣāṇa

In searching for some śaśa-viṣāṇa (horns of the hare) clip art in the form of a jackalope, I discovered this article on Wired.com explaining the origin of the "hare's horn" myth in the US. The idea of a rabbit with horns is not only found in Indian literature (as an example of an impossibility), but also in the American West and in Arabic poetry (known as al-mi'raj). Apparently there is a viral infection that causes some unfortunate rabbits to sprout growths that look like horns, though they don't look as nice as the ones below. (You can Google for images on your own!) So, perhaps it's not an non-referring term after all?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Arrival: gaviṣṭi and gavagai

Dr. Louise Banks tests the aliens' linguistic capabilities...
Last night I finally saw Arrival. The film hasn't been released in Singapore, so I had to avoid spoilers and watch it during my break in the US. It was worth waiting for, although I guffawed at a few points and found the major reveal to be disappointing. (My post below has spoilers.)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Peacocks in the rain

One of the poems my students encountered this semester in Classical Indian Philosophy of Language is found in both in Mukula Bhaṭṭa's Abhidhāvṛttamātṛkā and Ānandavardhana's Dhvanyāloka. It describes "the cloud's friends" who cry out at the rain clouds. My students weren't sure who the "cloud's friends" were, and why it would mean "peacocks," even though Mukula explains that it is because they have similar qualities of fondness.

I explained their role in Sanskrit poetry, but without actually having seen peacocks singing and opening their feathers in the rain, it's difficult. Then I found this nice image, a woodblock by a fellow named Ralph Kiggell, in a book called The Third Thing. If you click you can read the accompanying Sanskrit poem (which I haven't tried to track down). It is by Yogeśvara and was translated by John Brough in Poems from the Sanskrit--I am not sure why the book says "anonymous" and doesn't credit the translator!

With tail-fans spread, and undulating wings,
With whose vibrating pulse the air now sings,
Their voices lifted, and their beaks stretched wide,
Treading the rhythmic dance from side to side,
Eyeing the rainclouds dark, majestic hue,
Richer in color than their own throat's blue,
With necks upraised, to which their tails advance,
Now in the rains, the screaming peacocks dance.

This made me think a bit about the difficulty of translating poetry. Here there is rhyme, which signals "this is a poem" to a lot of readers, but at the expense of a sing-song quality that may not match the original meter. What is it that translators aim at when translating poetry? Since poetry is "sound and sense" as the Alaṁkāra tradition puts it, it's basically impossible to get both together precisely in source and target language. Here's the Sanskrit of the poem my students read: